Second Round Playoff Preview: Rangers vs. Penguins

It covers Crosby, or else it gets the hose again.

Now that this nonsense with the Flyers is finally over, the Rangers head to the Steel City to take on the Metropolitan Division Champion Penguins. Pittsburgh was given a run for their money by an upstart New York Rangers Columbus Blue Jackets team, who came up just short in their wild six-game opening round series.

These teams last met in the 2008 playoffs, where the Blueshirts were dispatched in five games. That was pretty much an entirely different roster, so recent history doesn’t tell us much. Obviously, the key to this series will be to keep the Pens’ stars in check as much as possible, and try to take advantage of the suspect defense and goaltending of the Penguins.

Let’s take a look at how the Rangers stack up against their latest Pennsylvania opponent…

Offense

As you would expect with an offense lead by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens are a dynamic offensive club. During the regular season, they finished 5th in the NHL with 2.95 goals/game. Coach Dan Bylsma has his front line running an aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck with an emphasis on puck pursuit. They run a familiar 1-3-1 powerplay set-up, which was tied for the top conversion percentage in the NHL at 23.4%. Incredibly dangerous.

Not surprisingly, Sidney Crosby remains the teams leading scorer and most potent offensive threat. While he is yet to score in these playoffs, he is not a player to sleep on, or you could come to regret it quickly. None of which is to mention Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, or Kris Letang, all of whom can bury the biscuit at anytime. Common line combos:

Kunitz – Crosby – Malkin

Jokinen – Sutter – Neal

Bennett – Goc – Stempniak

Glass – Vitale – Adams

The Penguins are actually structured fairly similarly to the Rangers, with three lines that can drive the offense and one, dedicated 4th defensive line. A little top-heavy, but definitely a handful up and down the lineup.

5 on 5 Offensive Advantage- Penguins

Defense

The Penguins’ defense, while not their strong suit, is far superior to the unit we just witnessed in Philly. Pittsburgh finished 10th in goals against/game at 2.49, but they have limited skill-sets that can be exploited. Word on the street is that bruiser Brooks Orpik is still not ready to go following a mystery injury suffered in Game 4 against Columbus. As a result of that injury, everyone moves up a rung, with Robert Bortuzzo taking the vacant roster spot.

Byslma employs a system that helps to hedge against the fact that his better defensive guys often appear to be skating in concrete and that their more mobile D-men are more wingers masquerading as defenders. Working with a zone defense, it allows Pittsburgh’s blue line to remain relatively static, while breaking up lanes and protecting the slot. There is a shot-blocking emphasis to help take some of the pressure off of Marc-Andre Fleury when opposing teams are sustaining in-zone pressure. Tentative D-Pairs:

Letang – Martin

Scuderi – Bortuzzo

Maatta – Niskanen

The Penguins are also not a great puck-possession team based on FF% (Fenwick For %), ranked 16th during the regular season at 50.2%. For reference the Rangers were ranked 6th at 53.6%.

With the absence of Orpik, the Pens don’t really have a shut-down pair. This could open up some extra room depending on matchups for guys like Nash, St. Louis and Zuccarello.

5 on 5 Defensive Advantage- Rangers

Goaltending

I wrote a pretty comprehensive style analysis for Marc-Andre Fleury back in 2012, so feel free to revisit that here. At this point the only real addenda to that analysis is that Fleury has clearly had some confidence/other mental issues in the past few playoffs, and there still seems to be some lingering effects this year.

Additionally, in contrast with fellow Canadian National, Carey Price, Fleury moved away from his technically gifted foundation and started to rely more on athleticism. It could just be that he doesn’t really trust himself to let the puck hit him after the past few playoff meltdowns, or just that he feels more confident playing more on by the seat of his pants. Either way, I’m sure The Suit will be more than happy to see him at the other end of the rink.

Goaltending Advantage- Rangers

Special Teams

We briefly covered the Penguins top-ranked powerplay in the offensive category, but what often gets overlooked is their 5th-ranked penalty kill. Bylsma runs a traditional diamond formation, with an emphasis on protecting the slot and blocking shots. Considering the Rangers absolutely brutal power play showing against Philly (who also didn’t have a bad PK, ranked 7th in the league), they will definitely need to up the ante against a slightly more accomplished Penguins PK unit.

Special Teams Advantage – Penguins

Ultimately, for the Rangers, this series will be about exploiting Pittsburgh’s weaknesses while not allowing the Pens’ big guns to get any traction. If they are able to keep Crosby and Malkin quiet (hello, Mr. McDonagh and Mr. Girardi), they have a very good chance of using their balance and depth to throw Pittsburgh off their game. If they take too many penalties or find themselves allowing the big guys to pile up points, it could be over in a hurry.

Prediction – Rangers in 7

"Second Round Playoff Preview: Rangers vs. Penguins", 5 out of 5 based on 6 ratings.

31 Responses to “Second Round Playoff Preview: Rangers vs. Penguins”

  1. Rob says:

    Will Kreider return for game 1?

    If so I would think Dorsett sits and Carcillo goes to 4th line.

    Thoughts?

    • Walt says:

      Rob

      NO

      If the kid were ready, he wouldn’t have worn the jersey for non-contact!

      Reading the article, I have to say it will be a hard fought series, and whoever comes out of this series has a very good chance of going all the way to the finals. The Boston-Montreal series will take it’s toll on both teams, and it may drag them down in the next series.

      The Rangers have to play smart hockey, don’t take stupid penalilties, sound defense, and causious offense. By causious I mean don’t get into a run, and gun game with these guys, too much fire power on that team. McD, and Girardi have to come up big, shut down that sweet thing Cindy, and ugly Igor!! This could be a fun series if we play it right!!!!!!!

      • Chris F says:

        Walt,

        I disagree.

        I’m not sure what the winner of this series should be more afraid of, the Bruins’ physicality or Carey Price’s goaltending.

        Watching the game last night, both teams struck me as opportunistic behemoths. You could see the big goal coming before it happened. They both have that killer instinct.

        If the Bruins win, they won’t be all that beat up as Montreal isn’t overly physical. If the Habs win, they may be bruised, but they’ll still have Carey Price, who was terrifyingly brilliant last night.

        There is no easy path to the Finals.

        • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

          Nope. Like you, watching that game last night reinforced how good both teams are, especially Boston. In a losing effort, they were buzzing and had countless “grade A” chances (to borrow from AV). That game was the definition of a goalie (Price) stealing one.

    • Dave says:

      Likely not. But if he does return, Dorsett won’t sit. You don’t break up that 4th line.

  2. Scully says:

    • This series will feel differently from the Flyers series, and I think we’ll see a couple of 1 – 0, 2 – 1 games and a couple of 5 goal games from one or both the teams.

    • The Rangers can absolutely not get away with having lapses in focus like they did against the Flyers. If they lost that series against the Flyers it would have been because they beat themselves. If the Rangers lose the series against the Penguins for the same reasons as they lost games to the Flyers, they’ll get run out of the building against this team. The Rangers aren’t clearly a better team like they were against Philadelphia. If we can focus on winning puck battles for 3,4,5 games in a row in this series, I think we will win. I Know everyone is talking about the Penguins’ big guns, but for the 1st time since the last time we played them in a playoff series we’ve got a bunch of legit big guns of our own.

    • We might need Lundqvist to have a couple of shutouts in this series. He’s been great, but he might need to bring his game up to even another level.

    • I would say my overall feeling at the outset of this series is nervous, but hopeful.

    • The “experts” seem to be most divided on this series in their predictions. •

    Rangers in 7.

  3. Steven Cifuentes says:

    Sadly I am one of those glass half empty guys.

    This PP will be to much to overcome unless our PP can match and I dont see it. Way refs call these games with Pens they get 3 or more PP per game we are f’d.

    Pens in 6.

  4. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Justin,

    How do you feel Lundqvist played in the first round, and does he need to raise his game in the second round for the Rangers to have a shot?

    • Justin says:

      RFIB, it’s a tough analysis in that you are looking at the series through a different lens. The Rangers were a much better team than the Flyers, so our natural reaction as fans is what when the Flyers score, they shouldn’t have.

      I think Hank played well, but there weren’t a ton of opportunities to steal games or change the tide with one save. There was really only a goal or two he probably could have stopped (caveat, I didn’t watch game 6), but they weren’t at back breaking times or in the final minutes of games or anything. I think he will have a much bigger opportunity to shine against the Pens.

  5. SalMerc says:

    I think the 2 things to watch for in this series are our PK and the Richardson line. Pens are scary good on the PP, so we need to defend just as well. I also think that the Richardson line should really get some favorable match-ups against their 3rd pair and maybe their third line.

  6. roadrider says:

    Some of your assessments are truly laughable. Special teams advantage Rangers? Really? Still, the Rangers have played well against the Penguins this year (although the Pens were missing key players in some of those games). Things could get out of hand quickly in this series for the Rangers in which case they could get bounced in as few as 5 games. But if it does go longer because they’ve raised their level of play and exploited some of the Pens weaknesses then King Henrik might just be able to steal this one for the boys in blue.

    • Scully says:

      The special teams advantage was given to the Penguins. Reading is fun!

    • Dave says:

      Learn to read buddy.

    • Justin says:

      Aside from your proof reading error, what other assessments are laughable? You can feel free to disagree, of course, but I don’t think any of the info is outlandish by any stretch.

      • Dave says:

        Maybe it’s just me, but when someone makes a mistake in the first sentence of their comment, I don’t bother reading anything else.

    • mikeyyy says:

      Fundamentals. Reading. What do you expect from a pitt fan? :)

  7. Bloomer says:

    I also predict the Rangers in 7 but I also have some other predictions:

    3 of the series games will go into OT-the rangers will only win 1 of the 3.

    The Penguins will get a ton of PP opportunities and Kunitz will score top shelf on Lundqvist on a cross feed from Crosby. Other then that, The Rangers PK will be very good this series.

    Crosby will have a hissy fit.

    Both teams will blow 2 goal leads.

    Lundqvist will get a shutout

    Fleury will let in some soft goals, and will be pulled in one of the games

    The Boyle, Moore and Dorsett line will give the Penquins fits

    Rick Nash breaks out of his scoring slump and Chris Kreider scores a huge winning goal!

    • Walt says:

      I like the Nash scoring, and the Kreider kid having a game winning goal!!!! Let’s hope your right, but in 6, my nerves are shot already!!!!!

  8. Chris A says:

    If Bylsma is dense enough to stack Malkin and Crosby on one line I would swing the advantage upfront 5v5 towards the Rangers. The Sutter and Goc lines are going to have hard time generating anything against the Rangers D. The only matchup that scares me is seeing Brass’ line out there against Crosby/Malkin.

    The Rangers have three scoring lines, with the above setup, the Pens have one. Also, Justin, you said it yourself, based on their Fenwick numbers the Pens aren’t driving possession. To me, that speaks directly to the Rangers 12 forwards being a superior group to Pitt’s 12.

    If the Rangers manage to stay out of the box and continue their habit of jumping out to early leads things could get ugly for the Pens real quick.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Bylsma probably won’t do that consistently, but he did put that super-line out on the ice on several occasions vs. Columbus.

      Even if he does don’t sleep on Neal-Sutter-Jokinen. They’re solid, if Sutter is healthy.

      The reason he probably won’t is Crosby, Malkin, Sutter is a crazy good 1-2-3 center rotation.

      The team is loaded.

      • Chris A says:

        I think you’re right RFIB, he likely will only pair them occasionally. My point was if Bylsma does decide to regularly feature Crosby/Malkin on the top line that’s great news for the Rangers.

    • HARLEMBLUES says:

      Puck possession is so over rated.One needs to score goals.Who scored the most goals and had the higher pct. per game Pittsburgh.Who had the by far higher puck possesion the Rangers.Pittsburgh has the higher skilled players who score goals.The Rangers roll players must outplay the Pens 2nd,3rd and 4th liners.

  9. Ray says:

    Given the way the Rangers’ D played against the Flyers, I hope AV keeps an open mind on his matchups. The Staal-Stralman duo of series 1 can stop Crosby and Malkin. If McD returns to form, McD and Girardi may be even better, but the top Penguins will run roughshod over the McD-G pair of last series.

    Hope to see the Brassard line against the top Penguin line to force those guys to play defense. It worked well against the penguins last time and AV used the trick against Philly.

  10. Ray says:

    Has any team in Cup history ever had to play five games in seven days before?

  11. HARLEMBLUES says:

    Mtl. has won 5 straight and their top scores are like 7th,9th and 10th on the team at this moment.Yes Nash,Msl and Stepan must play the Pens top line even.The rest of the Rangers forwards must out play and out score the Pens.The pk and pp must be better,they both must produce.The KING must be just that THE KING.

  12. HARLEMBLUES says:

    Hey let’s go RANGERS.

  13. Pens goalie Flower as his name translates to in English is a head case. I think you’re right that the past 2 or 3 playoffs have made him less confident in his positioning. He went to see a sports Shrink this past summer and maybe continues to see him regularly. He has a ton of talent and maybe the best glove hand in the NHL. It’s all between the ears with him and what the Rabgers need to do is POSSESS THE PUCK this entire series. Shoot at him from anywhere you have the time & space. Don’t give up on anything. He will allow a soft goal and that could just win this series for the Rangers. He will let one bank in off him from behind the net and that’ll open the flood gates. Maybe even get feast on Volkun for a bit. Otherwise the Pens have too much offense for the Rangers to contain for 7 games. The quickest I think they could beat the Pens.